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Small Decisions You're Making That Can Take Years Off Your Life

Here's why you should sit less, set a firm bedtime, and stop sweating the small stuff.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel
Worried woman at home alone

While the number will certainly vary from person to person, many sources estimate that the average adult makes roughly 35,000 decisions every single day. "Assuming that most people spend around seven hours per day sleeping and thus blissfully choice-free, that makes roughly 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision every two seconds," writes Eva M. Krockow Ph.D., for Psychology Today.

Now, you may think many of those lesser choices don't have all that much impact on you. For example, does it really matter which route you walk to work? Does binging just one more episode have an impact on your body? And if you choose to hold on to anger and resentment for a little while, you're totally justified, right? Well, maybe. But like a falling row of dominoes, even small decisions have a way of adding up and impacting our lives (and longevity) in meaningful ways. Keep reading to learn about some seemingly small decisions you may be making that can seriously hurt you in the long run. And for more ways to extend your life, make sure you're avoiding these Ugly Everyday Habits Proven to Take Years Off Your Life, Says Science.

1

You're Choosing to Forgo a Set Bed Time

Sleepy exhausted woman working at office desk with her laptop, her eyes are closing and she is about to fall asleep, sleep deprivation and overtime working concept

Strict bedtimes are for kids, right? Wrong—assuming you believe the findings of a study released last year in the scientific journal Nature. Researchers tracked the sleeping habits of a group of over 500 college students, and discovered that heading to bed just 30 minutes later than usual resulted in a higher resting heart rate the next day.

"We already know an increase in resting heart rate means an increased risk to cardiovascular health," says lead study author Nitesh Chawla, the Frank M. Freimann professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Notre Dame, director of the Center for Network and Data Science. "Through our study, we found that even if you get seven hours of sleep a night, if you're not going to bed at the same time each night, not only does your resting heart rate increase while you sleep, it carries over into the next day."

Opting to spend an extra 20 minutes browsing Reddit or new cooking recipes hardly feels like a decision that will put your health at risk. This research just goes to show that sometimes the smallest of choices can have a big impact. And for more things you should avoid for the sake of your lifespan, don't miss The One Habit That Can Cut Your Life Short by 28 Years, Says Study.

2

You're Choosing to Sit Too Much

woman sitting on the floor

Research published in the scientific journal eLife found that humans tend to go for the easier of two options—even when they may not consciously realize it. This is why, when given the choice, your average human being will almost invariably choose to sit rather than to stand.

Now, it can be tempting to decide to spend an extra hour or two on the couch, but all those sedentary hours can add up quickly and take a major toll on pretty much every area of your health. Moreover, the Mayo Clinic cites a 13-study analysis that concluded people who sit for more than eight hours per day and get in little to no exercise face a comparable mortality risk to that posed by habitual cigarette use or obesity. Considering that most jobs necessitate sitting for hours at a time, a seemingly harmless decision to forgo the gym after clocking out in favor of some couch time may not be as innocuous as it seems at that moment.

The negative impact of sitting on heart and cardiovascular health is more well-known, but research published in PLOS One notes that sitting too often is associated with the "thinning" of brain areas critical to memory formation. It may not be the easier option, but opt to avoid sitting as much as you can. It can be inconvenient in the short-term, but it will extend your life in the long run.

3

You're Choosing to Sweat the Small Stuff

woman stressed at her desk

Imagine you trip on your way into a store and someone laughs at you. It's embarrassing, for sure, but if you choose to let little hiccups like that ruin the rest of your day, it can end up affecting your health.

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reports that how an individual's mind "evaluates fleeting negative stimuli" (like an embarrassing moment) may impact their long-term psychological well-being. Poor mental health is linked to an increased risk of various health issues including cancer and heart disease.

"One way to think about it is the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, or stimuli, the unhappier you report being," explains lead study author Nikki Puccetti, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami. "Basically, we found that the persistence of a person's brain in holding on to a negative stimulus is what predicts more negative and less positive daily emotional experiences. That in turn predicts how well they think they're doing in their life."

The study also notes individuals who tend to ruminate more on minor negative events and report more negative emotions showed extended activity in the left amygdala area of the brain. This may suggest that certain people are more prone to reliving mistakes and errors than others, just like how some people are naturally more pessimistic. Still, at the end of the day everyone is capable of recognizing unhelpful thought patterns and choosing to make a change.

4

You're Choosing to Walk in the Wrong Places

Business man using mobile phone walking in city street commuting to work with blazer and messenger bag texting on smartphone. Young businessman urban lifestyle.

Making the decision to walk more is a smart one. That being said, be careful about where you choose to walk. If possible, always opt for more natural locations away from the hustle and bustle of urban areas and cities. Cities are hotbeds for smog (polluted air), and if your entire daily walk is spent breathing in dirty, harmful air it pretty much defeats the purpose of getting outside in the first place.

Smog exposure is linked to a host of health issues—from dementia to cardiac arrest. A recent Canadian study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization states that millions of people all over the world die prematurely from various diseases and cancers caused by smog. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 52,000 die from smog-related causes annually. According to the American Lung Association, the most air polluted city in the U.S. in reference to year-round particulate matter pollution is Bakersfield, California, followed by Fresno, CA, Visalia, CA, Los Angeles, CA, and Medford-Grants Pass, OR. But for more reasons to walk in less polluted areas, see here for One Secret Side Effect of Walking You Never Knew, Says Study.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more